Psychologist J threatens to terminate the session.
This is a difficult post to write because I didn’t really attend this session at all. I’m relying heavily on notes added to my phone moments after the session. But it started on Thursday as I was driving to the appointment and an argument was taking place in my head between myself and the inner critic.
I don’t want to go.
Well we have to go, if you don’t go, who are you going to get help from? This is your chance to talk to someone.
I don’t want to talk to him.
Fine, but I won’t speak on your behalf anymore. I promised I would stop talking about you behind your back. If you don’t want to attend, you’ll have to tell him yourself.
As I waited in his miniscule waiting room I could FEEL something changing inside. I knew that dissociation was imminent. I remember thinking I better not sit down in his room. I should tell him something is about to happen and I need to stay standing until he helps me ground to the present.
He sticks his head around the corner and smiles as per usual. I walk into his room and sit down. And then I am gone. In my place is the inner critic in the midst of a flashback.
Psychologist J sits down in his usual spot to my left but he isn’t himself, he’s the predator. My head immediately turns away to the right, I look up and fix my eyes on the far right corner of the ceiling.
It’s safe up here.
Psychologist J is talking. I don’t hear him. I’m still up in the ceiling. I can’t feel my body. I’m staring at the ceiling vent.
A vent. A vent. A vent. A vent.
Psychologist J keeps talking. He knows when I am non-responsive, body tense and turned away from him and staring up at the ceiling I’m in a flashback. He says something about moving. He moves away far far far to the right behind his desk. Because he’s moved out of the area that is most threatening to me (my left side), I start to be able to hear him and the room comes back into focus. I can sense my body but it is still anticipating an attack. I’m clutching a blanket. He keeps talking slowly and softly while I slowly move my gaze from the roof to the floor.
“I got your messages. I know you’ve had a rough night. One of your messages was about having a flashback and dealing with that. And the other one was from -“
I cringe but like I ACTUALLY cringe as though someone is throwing vomit at me. I can’t handle him mentioning the email I sent him. I’m ashamed at how rude I was. He sees my reaction.
“…was from…someone else.”
I don’t want to be here. I told her I didn’t want to come today.
“See if you can have a look around the room. Take in where you are and find some safety. Have a look around slowly.” I can barely look around. My neck won’t seem to move more than a few inches either way. My body is starting to feel strange again.
I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be in this body. I don’t want to be in this room.
“Can you find something safe to look at?” I shake my head. I need to leave. The danger is too high. I close my eyes. The danger quickly peaks and I can feel a veil of collapse and apathy draping over me. Soon I will be miles away.
“Are your eyes closed?” I nod.
“Is it just too hard to be here today?” he asks. I nod.
“And with me?”
I nod again.
“Maybe we should talk about that.”
I don’t respond.
“When you close your eyes, does that make it better or worse?” He’s asking a leading question. He usually says keeping your eyes closed speeds up a flashback. He wants me to say worse but actually it feels so good. It’s helping me vanish just like when he did all that stuff. It’s a relief to leave my body behind. It no longer matters what happens.
“Better.” I answer.
“What tells you that?” he asks. I want to say “my body tells me that” but I can’t answer. I’m already too far out of my body to find my voice box.
He can’t see me. I don’t have a body anymore so I’m invisible.
“If you looked inside, can you take a look inside, what do you see?” he asks. I hear the words but I can’t make sense of them. Look inside, what do I see, look inside, what do I see. The question makes no sense to me because I don’t have an inside. I’m a mind floating in a cloud.
I try to look go back to my body and look inside. All I see is blackness. I must have been silent for too long because he has moved on before I find the words to answer.
“Can you try to open your eyes?” I slowly open my eyes. He keeps talking. I don’t hear much. After he talks for some time he notices that I am a little more present.
“Is it ok if I move a bit closer, Claire?”
I want him to move to his usual spot but I’m not Claire.
I nod yes and then shake my head no. He is confused.
“No you don’t want me to move?” I shake my head no.
“You do want me to move, Claire?” I nod yes and then shake my head no.
“Ok I’m a bit unsure.”
“Yes to the first bit, no to the second bit.” I manage to say quietly.
“What was that? Sorry I didn’t catch it.”
“Yes to the first bit, no to the second bit.” I say again.
“Yes you want me to move, Claire?” I’m growing frustrated. I don’t like to be seen but I also don’t like to be called her name.
“Yes you can move over here but don’t call me that.” I snap.
He moves to his usual seat to left now that I recognise him as a man I’ve spoken to a few times before. He’s saying something about a name. Asking me what my name is.
“I don’t have a name.”
He’s saying something about how this makes it difficult for him. If I don’t have a name then he doesn’t know who he is dealing with. He says he doesn’t think he’s met me before. Now the pain and danger is back. My body goes limp and I’m hovering at the point of departure again.
“You HAVE met me before!” I say with maximum surliness.
I don’t remember what he says at this point but inside things are taking on a flashback quality again. Someone is poking and prodding me. My whole body is screaming at me to curl up in a tight ball and go to sleep. But I can’t seem to move to curl up.
I just want to die.
Not all of me, just this part that was always there to shield the rest of me during abuse. Collapse, die, be used, feel nothing. The apathy seeps through the carpet and flows through me like an anaesthetic.
It won’t matter what he does because I’ll be dead.
A teeny tiny part of the normal me hears the sentence “I just want to die” and recognises there’s a flashback going on but is too far out of control of the body to alert Psychologist J.
Psychologist J seems frustrated. He’s silent for a long time and then he suddenly leans forward uncertain and serious.
“Something seems really stuck. I’m not really sure how to proceed so I’m going to be guided by you.”
No one can help me. There’s no escape. I’m stuck in that strange corridor where my thoughts are about then and now. I summon my last bit of strength.
“I just want to go to sleep” I whisper.
“What’s that? I didn’t quite catch that.”
“I just want to go to sleep.” I close my eyes again.
“Do you want to lie down and then I wake you up when the session is done?” He’s said that before and only this time I hear sarcasm in his tone. I shake my head no. My whole body is screaming to roll up.
I just want to die.
“Are you going to be ok to drive home?” I don’t respond.
“Look, I’m a little concerned.” Long silence. Then suddenly he sits forward again and speaks firmly.
“Ok, Claire. I think I’m just going to terminate the session.” His firmness feels like a hand pushing me over and jerks me out of the fog of submission and into a different kind of tormented memory. I start crying.
“I’m a bit worried, Claire. I don’t think we should continue.”
“Don’t call me that!” More tears.
He’s saying something to justify his actions. Something about how he needs to know who he is talking to and if I want to sleep then maybe I should go home and do that. And that I have choices. I don’t have to be here if I don’t want to.
“I don’t have a choices.” I cry.
I don’t have a choice. My job is to protect her body and mind.
“You do have choices, Claire” he insists. “You have a choice to hold that blanket or not. To sit still or to move…”
“Stop calling me that!” I sob again.
I stop listening. I feel scolded and misunderstood which is such a familiar feeling. He has morphed into people from the past.
“Why are you so angry so with me?” I sob.
“Listen to my voice, Claire. It’s so quiet I’m practically whispering. If that’s angry then I don’t know what to do.”
“No, it’s about your words. I don’t have choices! You should validate how it feels but you’re trying to convince me you’re right and I’m wrong. That’s all I know. People always treat me that way. I don’t even have a choice about having choices!”
Suddenly he recognises me as the inner critic who he has spoken to a few times and talked about many many times but I’m so fired up I can’t stop.
“I didn’t want to exist but I don’t have a choice about that! I had to exist to take all the shit. And then you give me that book with 300 pages and it just feels like so many pages about all the things wrong with me. And you talk about integration. I don’t know how to do things with people and now you want me to be smooshed into Claire! I just want people to leave me alone!”
He’s nodding and he sighs heavily.
“I just want to apologise for being clumsy and not recognising you. I bumped into you. When I don’t know what to do or when I feel like I’m not learning I get anxious and I think that’s what happened. “
“You said I was welcome whatever state I was in. I miss (Dr) K.”
Ugh. I didn’t want to admit that. Thankfully he doesn’t comment on it.
“You’re right. You didn’t ask to exist. I think you came into being when things were chaotic. Your only experience of being with people is bad and you expect to be hated. I accept you and respect you so much. I want to be an ally.” I feel the warm wash of justice relaxing my arms and back a little.
“You’re a reluctant warrior. But I think you’re also full of life you know like your friend P that you always talk about who is feisty and brave.”
“My body was just too stimulated”. He nods. “And I think parts of my normal personality, parts that weren’t acceptable have become part of me.” He nods again.
“I want to explain Integration. I didn’t mean it that way. Integration just means more of an agreement between the parts. You’re very important. Nothing would ever happen without your permission. I don’t want you to go away but maybe more like have a rest sometimes.” I explain to him that there is already some agreement between the parts. That I’m no longer mean to the child part and the adult part has agreed it will no longer talk about me behind my back.
He accidently calls me Claire again and he sees the pain in my face.
“It really hurts when I call you that.”
“Yes. I don’t have a name. It’s safer that way. If you don’t have a name then you can’t be pinned down. You can’t be blamed for things.”
He nods and starts talking but I hear the adult part in my mind far off in the distance wanting to explain something to Psychologist J and I turn my head to the right to listen. He notices me looking up at the ceiling.
“Is something happening?”
“I’m listening to something.”
“Yes, the adult part.”
“Can you hear what it’s saying?
“Yes, but I don’t want to talk like that.”
“Are the words too big?”
“No. Too sensible and nice. I don’t like this. It was better when I was just a voice in the background. When I was doing the talking and not the listening.”
He understands because for years in therapy the adult part would report that it was experiencing intrusive critical thoughts demanding it keep silent about certain memories. I look up to the right a bit longer but I stop listening when I sense the adult part is concerned about how it will feel when it regains control of the body.
“What usually makes you come awake? Is it when the other parts are scared?”
“No, I feel scared too but its different. I usually do the talking and the adult part listens. I don’t like being here (in the body). It was better when I was hiding in the back of the head controlling things and then (Dr) K poked around and I had to come out.”
I glance over at him and take a chance at making eye contact for the first time this session. His arm and shoulder look overly masculine and sexual which makes my body feel unpleasant. I look away.
“The adult part is worried about later and I don’t know how to go away. Usually I have to do something bad like hurt the body. Or I could do what (Dr) K told me I suppose…”
He says that what I learnt from Dr K sounds like the better option and then he says something about theory and safety and feeling good that makes no sense to me at all. I know we must have gone overtime again because he’s doing that thing where he’s trying not to look at the clock but his eyes are flicking there quickly anyway.
“What should I do about the shame that will come after I leave?” I say as I drape the blanket back over the chair. Something I always do to signal I know time is up.
“Can you hear this? I really want you to hear this. I’m proud of you. You have nothing to be ashamed of.”
I leave the session and feel my body moving heavy and slow. I feel drained and everything looks grey or sepia. Although I know where the car is parked, the streets look strange because I know I wasn’t the one who drove here. By the time I shuffle to the car, I can feel the adult part fighting its way back into the body. There’s still a few minutes left on my parking ticket and I can sense the panic starting to come and I know what will follow will be thoughts like what the fuck happened just happened? Where did I go? Am I going insane? Psychologist Dr K once described coming back into the body in the present after dissociating similar to a rocket experiencing re-entry. I manage to type a short email to Psychologist J asking if he could send me something reassuring about what happened in the session because I know when the adult part returns it will be confused and scared.
A few hours later an email arrives with praise and reassurance and he’s paraphrased the session in three neat dot points. But it’s the final sentence that plays over and over in my mind for the inner critic. Born in the midst of parental abuse it knows only to dominate or to be dominated, to hate or to be hated, to hide or be hostile. To trust, and to trust a man no less, is new.
“We got through a wobble together.”
Whatever could this sentence mean.
Van der Kolk (2014). The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. Penguin, London.